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Implementation of the recommendations of the Lost Innocents and Forgotten Australians reports

CHAIR —Welcome. Thank you for coming. I know at least one of you is from Queensland.

Mr Kelly —Two of us.

CHAIR —Two of you are from Queensland, Mr Kelly? It is nice that you could come. Do you have any comments to make on the capacity in which you appear?

Ms Treweek —I am appearing as an individual. I am also a member of the Wings site. My care began in Victoria, so I have a bit of a passion for Victoria, but I am from Queensland.

Mr Kelly —My care started in New South Wales; two wards of the state in Victoria; and then I was transported to Queensland, where I have been part of that process as well. I am speaking for Wings and as an individual.

Ms Greaves —I am Michele Greaves. My care was also in Victoria, where I live, and I am a member of Wings as well.

Mrs Findlay —I was raised in Victoria. I am also a member of Wings for Survivors.

CHAIR —Thank you very much. We have your submission, thank you, which talks about what you do and the way you were set up. That has been signed by some people, but I know you are a network. What we would like to do is hear from you the issues that you want to tell us about and then we will go into questions. Who wants to start?

Ms Treweek —They wanted me to start. I will get a concern out of the way, which I put in my submission, about information sharing and the inclusion of forgotten Australians in the process as a whole. I know it is difficult to get information out to all people, but what is not being used is word-of-mouth information. I designed a company two years ago, and I meet hundreds of forgotten Australians who definitely would never know anything about this, because they are surviving day to day. As a service provider now, I am able to reach out, but we are not tapping into all of those resources to get all the information about this inquiry, for example, out to people.

When I attempt to go onto websites that are already available, I always get hit with this ‘members only’ section and I cannot get past the front page. As a forgotten Australian myself, I feel that all forgotten Australians should have access to the Forgotten Australians site. I find it so disheartening. I do not even go on there any more. There are a lot of people who are voicing the same opinion to me. We have got to open these sites up.

CHAIR —Ms Treweek, do you want to name those sites?

Ms Treweek —The Alliance for Forgotten Australians site. The CLAN website has limited access. I was a member of the CLAN organisation, but I still could not access the members-only section. I found it disheartening. I did contact CLAN and ask if I could have a number to access and I was not given one. Maybe that is because there is information there that they do not want to share or there are projects that are not finished yet. But I would like the opportunity to be able to decide for myself.

I would also really like to raise here that, from the orphanages and children’s homes, state and church, children were placed into adult mental health institutions. A lot of those kids are still there today. We are finding people in these mental health institutions who are in their 70s. They have never been released. Who is reaching out to these people? Recently a lady contacted me because she had found her friend. But she found her friend’s gravestone. The young girl had died within two years of being placed into the adult mental health institution.

Unfortunately, we are a forgotten group—not so forgotten, because we keep yelling out about it. But Queensland is the only government that is doing something about that. They call it a reconciliation strategy and they are preparing a separate apology for all the children who, from the homes, were placed into the adult mental health institution. It is five years ago that they announced they were going to do that. It just goes around and around and around, and our people are dying. They have been fighting for 20 years for recognition for what happened to us. There are only a handful of us left in Queensland. This practice happened in every state of Australia.

When they say, ‘Children went missing,’ have a look in the mental health institutions. At least now maybe go back and say, ‘We do care about you,’ so that they can be included as forgotten Australians. I will leave it there.

CHAIR —Thank you. Mr Kelly, would you like to make a statement?

Mr Kelly —I stand by exactly everything that Sue has just said. I am also a service provider. Sue is in Brisbane and I am on the Gold Coast. It is remarkable. I come across people on a day-to-day basis. We deal with persons who are homeless. Of my 107 clients, 57 of them do not know anything about redress. They do not know anything about an apology. They have never heard of anything. I was on a train and asked for directions today and I got the same again. It is a constant thing that seems to brush past me in the services that we deal with, certainly with the low socioeconomic circumstance persons. I am at Bond University, as you can see.

CHAIR —I see your label, yes.

Mr Kelly —Thank you. They supply nice clothing! It has taken me the last five years to achieve what would take most persons a couple of semesters. I am on a disability program because I could not read and write. Bond University is my first school. The things that I am passionate about are health and education. We have been running education programs, as Sue is aware, for persons of our network. Everyone said that these persons with five disabilities or more could not be helped and we have got proof that we have helped them. Through Rod Welford and the special needs program, we have given people two years to do a 16-week course. It is 2½ hours once a fortnight instead of five days a week.

We have pushed to make changes, where there should be others giving that assistance to us. We are not saying the government should take responsibility or accountability, because we are wanting to empower persons. I feel—and I speak for all of us—that it is important for us to empower ex-residents and to pass on the knowledge, skills and tools that we have, because we are the ones that are the stronger few of so many. Unfortunately, they do not trust anyone, not even their own family. They have separated themselves from everything.

I can honestly say it has taken me 45 years to feel alive, to feel like I am actually going to school with a packed lunch, a clean shirt on my back and to be able to walk proud. It should not take 45 years. We do not want to wait another 45 years. We are the youngest group and there are so many. I spoke at the apology in 2006 with these recommendations by the Bracks government and I find myself back here again. It is not an easy process. What we have endured even just in the last 76 hours to get here would seem a big thing, but this is a daily recurrence for us. This is hard for us every day.

The support needs to be a holistic approach. It is great to have one support network—the department of community services, a network within a suburb and community housing projects and what have you—but there is not an umbrella or a system that works. There needs to be more correlation of services so that we can assist persons—not necessarily a one stop shop, because that is not very easy to do, but certainly forgotten Australians need to have this availability. Most of these persons just want to speak. They want to be heard.

Most of these persons express that their lives will not change just through being there on the lawn and having someone say ‘sorry’ and the tears of so many thousands of people. We are not going to get better over a couple of years. We are going to take this to our grave. We have all got insomnia, dyslexia, teeth problems and bad health. We do not get up well; we do not go to bed easily, if at all. There are a vast number of issues that surround persons in this forgotten Australian inquiry. It needs to be acted on shortly, with some vigour. People are dying.

My fiancee studies psychology. She studied psychology because of me, because she wanted to understand me—no other reason. It was because she wanted to understand me. She and another psychologist who I have come across and persons that I network with state the same: what I see in regard to the next 15, if not 50 years, is that if we do not get a grasp of this situation, it is going to explode. It is bad enough that our mental health system lacks the attention that it greatly needs. It is going to explode. I feel that there are going to be many inquiries associated with the forgotten Australian inquiry, simply because there are so many other issues. There is housing. These people now have children who are having children. We now have three and four generations of this systematic abuse.

There is information and paperwork disappearing—‘Yes, we know that you were in Queensland at some stage.’ ‘Yes, we know you were in Victoria.’ But paperwork? We do not remember days and dates. You could not remember what you had for breakfast last week, let alone what happened to you 27 years ago. The other abuse factor that I see is having to explain this again and again to individuals. It is not on a daily basis, but it is a huge issue. It is serious.

What you have in front of you are persons with strength. We do not see ourselves as victims. We see ourselves as survivors. We have the strength to speak for those who cannot. They would be in tears here today, and yelling and screaming abuse, and this, that and what have you. This is what we are now seeing with our network meetings. People are that fed up now they cannot talk amicably. They cannot express themselves without fear and guilt and shame.

That is the other thing: why should we be shameful? We were placed in these institutions for care and protection. We were not cared for, we were not protected and we were not educated and we have done an excellent job, all of us, to achieve what we have achieved, given that we have not had the assistance that is greatly needed. Thank you for allowing us to come here.

CHAIR —We have not ‘allowed’ you, Mr Kelly. You have come!

Mr Kelly —Yes.

Ms Greaves —I would like to address the redress system that is happening in different states.

CHAIR —Sure. Across the whole board, not just in Victoria?

Ms Greaves —There is not one in Victoria or New South Wales.

CHAIR —No, I know, but that could be your point. You want to comment across the board?

Ms Greaves —Across the board, really: the redress should have been a national system overseen by the Commonwealth government and the monetary compensation should have been equal in all states. I really think that it needs to be investigated, because you have done further harm through restrictions and classifications of abuse. Regardless of what category of abuse someone falls under, governments cannot decide which has done more harm or less. It is an individual thing that has happened, so the compensation should have been quite equal.

People are very angry and frustrated because, as the system goes into the different grades, if the sexual abuse is on the top you diminish what has happened underneath and it should have been equal. Abuse is abuse and it is an individual effect on children. It is not the same across the board, so there should not have been classifications. They should be removed, and it needs to be looked at in all states, because what has happened is wrong. People seem to be denied redress. The government seems to have a system in place, but we are individuals and what has happened to each of us will affect us differently, so it cannot be written in black. It just does not work that way.

In Victoria there seems to be no information. You cannot find out anything, even about a scheme that there is at the moment—the dental scheme. People on our site have tried to access the dental system for forgotten Australians, but you have to be extremely ill to be able to access it, so that system really is not in place for us in Victoria. We had really bad dental health care as children, if we had it at all, and a lot of us getting sick with our dental, because it does have a physical effect on your body, but now there is a system in place that is not working. You cannot get dentures.

CHAIR —That is in Victoria?

Ms Greaves —Yes, in Victoria. It is not working at all, so we are back behind closed doors again and so we have got categories again. There is not a system that is there for everybody and that is what it should be. It should be equal for all of us.

Also, I believe that the Commonwealth government should have an apology for the forgotten Australians. It is important that the Commonwealth government leads the way for our nation, because our nation needs to hear what has happened to us. We can only heal when we hear from the government, from our nation, that you are sorry for what has happened, because you are the head of state and we were locked behind closed doors and kept silent. I am 51, and we are still kept silent, and there are thousands of us who are. I would call on the Commonwealth government to stand and do the right thing for us and then we can start healing.

CHAIR —Thank you. Mrs Findlay?

Mrs Findlay —I would like to tap onto the plaques for the orphanage sites and institutions to acknowledge that we were there as children, it insults me that some of these institutions have plaques for superintendents and for the Indigenous people, but what about white children? In some of these sites, it does not acknowledge us as white children in the same light as superintendents, which I think is a real insult.

CHAIR —Mrs Findlay, is there any particular one? I do not know Victoria and you said that you had care, for want of a better word, in Victoria.

Mrs Findlay —Our orphanage has that.

CHAIR —Which one is that?

Mrs Findlay —The Ballarat Orphanage.

CHAIR —Where the Ballarat home was, there are some plaques?

Mrs Findlay —Yes, there are two plaques. There is one for the Indigenous people and one that the superintendents have.

CHAIR —Recognising their work?

Mrs Findlay —Yes, recognising their work, which I find quite insulting.

CHAIR —And they are in place?

Mrs Findlay —As white Australian children, we go back to our grounds where we were brought up and we read and think, ‘Well, hey, where’s mine?’ The other thing I would like to tap onto is the unmarked graves. Many children were buried in our cemeteries. Twelve months ago when I went to pay my respects to my father, I came across a grave that had 26 children in one site. It did not even have their name, date of birth or anything and no respect that they even existed. I believe that some sort of plaque should be given and some research into cemeteries to find out which children are buried in them and giving them some sort of respect that they did exist.

CHAIR —I am just looking over your shoulder to see whether the people from that funded program, that was looking at different sites in Victoria, are taking up that issue. Even if you do not get in contact with them, we will contact them, because I do not remember hearing about cemeteries on the list they gave us of places that they were looking at. That was an issue that had not been raised. We will give you their names as well if you would like to take it up with them. They are a Victorian based organisation.

Mrs Findlay —The other thing is access to services for all forgotten Australians. I have family that live in Queensland that get no assistance, no support, because they were raised here in Victoria, and vice versa. We have forgotten Australians that live in Victoria that were brought up in New South Wales or wherever and they are turned away. We should be supporting forgotten Australians. It does not matter where you come from. If you are going to label us as a forgotten Australian, then that is what we are: forgotten Australians. Otherwise we should have been forgotten Victorians.

CHAIR —I see the point. People move and then they do not have services.

Mrs Findlay —Yes, they just do not have the services. The last one I want to tap onto is forgotten Australians that had injections as children. I inquired quite a few years ago about whether my babies home was involved in that, and I got no support and nothing back saying yes or no—‘There’s no records.’ I do believe deep down there are records. I looked into it 10 years ago because I had a medical condition. One of the things I was asked by my doctor, due to something that was in my blood or whatever, was ‘What injections or needles did you have as a child?’ and, hold on, there was no record of what I had as a child. I believe that, if I ask for it, I should be entitled to have some sort of record of what injections I was given in a babies home. I should have access to those records.

CHAIR —Mrs Findlay, what home was that?

Mrs Findlay —Alexandra Babies Home.

CHAIR —Thank you.

Mrs Findlay —That is all from me.

CHAIR —You have covered so many things, and we have many issues on record, but I will see whether the senators have some questions.

Senator SIEWERT —I want to follow up on your last comment first, which is that there are no standard immunisation records. You cannot even get those?

Mrs Findlay —No. I wrote and asked whether or not that home was involved, because there was a big issue about 10 years ago which was advertised. I watched them on television, and I think they were talking about Broadmeadows in Melbourne, which was one of the biggest ones.

Ms Treweek —Was that for the drug trials?

Mrs Findlay —Basically, yes. When I wrote to the Department of Human Services, I got a reply saying, ‘There are no records. There’s nothing from the Alexandra Babies Home.’

Senator SIEWERT —No records of anything?

Mrs Findlay —No.

Senator SIEWERT —Putting aside whether there were drug trials, they just said, what, that you cannot get access to those records?

Mrs Findlay —No.

Mr Kelly —I had the same circumstances for St Joseph’s in Kincumber in New South Wales. They have no records whatsoever at all, nothing. There are still some nuns and people there that actually remember it when it was an orphanage. They know about the abuse and what have you but, past that, nothing else—no records.

Senator SIEWERT —I think some of you may have been here when we were taking evidence earlier, talking about national coordination and people having difficulty getting access to their records. This comes up time and time again, and I know it is a really big issue in Western Australia, which is my home state. You are still experiencing difficulties in getting access to your records by the sound of things.

Mr Kelly —Yes.

Ms Greaves —A lot are missing. I’ve got five years of nothing! I did not exist between five and 10, but I was in the same home.

Senator SIEWERT —This morning we were talking about national coordination through COAG—Council of Australian Governments—for a whole lot of issues, and we will come back to redress in a minute, but do you think that access to records could be coordinated nationally so that each state shares information?

Mr Kelly —Yes, absolutely.

Ms Treweek —And take into consideration police records and court records, yes.

Mr Kelly —Because these will correlate. There is a way to find the track, to find the missing links.

Senator SIEWERT —I am sorry I am jumping. It is not because I do not think all these issues are important; it is just because of a lack of time. In relation to coordination of services, which state, in your experience—because a number of you have experience across the states—offers the best services to care leavers as an example of where we could be looking?

Ms Treweek —I think Queensland are quite good, because I have had more experience there, but I think that there is a lot that they could do better.

Mr Kelly —Yes, only because they are working towards redress.

Ms Treweek —I did not raise this before, but what concerns me about services is the amount of funding that is provided that gets eaten up by administrative costs—running costs and pieces of paper—down to the little bit that is left over to actually deliver the service.

Mr Kelly —It is nonexistent.

Ms Treweek —That is a big concern.

Ms Greaves —For me, Victoria is appalling. It is way behind everybody else.

Mrs Findlay —Yes, especially the country regions. We have nothing for forgotten Australians who live in the country regions.

Mr Kelly —Yes.

Mrs Findlay —For forgotten Australians as a whole, there is a service. If you were raised in the orphanage in Ballarat, for instance, you get service and support there. But if you happen to be a forgotten Australian from Melbourne or wherever, the service is not quite there for them. I think it needs to be for all forgotten Australians.

Ms Treweek —In every state.

Mr Kelly —Yes. I have family in Morwell in Gippsland. My sister is a mother of five children, and she just cannot at any given time, with taking kids to school and so on, hop on a train for a three-hour trip to come down here and see someone. There does need to be a process, whether it be a community centre of sorts or what have you. There are so many country areas, which is where holistically many of us go because we do not like the crowds, we do not like buses, we do not like trains. That is where you will find that most of these people have branched to.

Senator SIEWERT —You would suggest that there is a disproportionate number of forgotten Australians living regionally. Is that your point?

Mr Kelly —They do, yes.

Senator SIEWERT —Around Australia—

Mr Kelly —Absolutely.

Senator SIEWERT —or more Victoria?

Mr Kelly —Except, of course, you will find people that dwell in the city because they are homeless. There are no in-betweens now. You will find the rest dotted around the suburbs, where they have locked themselves up behind very high walls, with lots of trees around them, and they do not speak to people. The abuse has been so long within their mindset that they are no longer reaching out to anyone. That is one of the bigger problems. They do not know who to go to or who to speak to. When you spin these people to a social worker or what have you, they are not qualified to listen.

Senator SIEWERT —The social workers are not keyed into the fact that care leavers have—

Mr Kelly —No. They will just pick up a piece of paper and say, ‘You can contact CLAN.’ Bang, you ring CLAN or VANISH or what have you, and the process is not working.

Ms Greaves —Medical care is a really big issue, because they do not seem to understand what has happened mentally to us. I was really fortunate because I found a psychiatrist who specialised in the damage that is caused to institutional children by abuse, but he is not a common doctor. GPs do not know anything about it. We present with different problems, but they have no knowledge. There are no links in our system that a GP could tap into and say, ‘We can look at these different services for you.’ We are locked behind closed doors and we do not have the key yet.

Senator SIEWERT —I have a Victoria-specific question about the $7.5 million that has just been committed to provide services. It is more about access to services. Do you think that may help address the issue that you have just raised, Ms Greaves?

Ms Greaves —It should help, but it is not really a lot of money, because someone will have to establish offices. It is not a lot of money to go around to us at all. A lot more needs to be done. It is a nice start, but we need a lot more.

Senator HUMPHRIES —Why was Wings for Survivors set up? What is different about this organisation to the others?

Mrs Findlay —Wings for Survivors is not an organisation. It was set up by a forgotten Australian who creates websites herself. It was her dream to open up a website so we forgotten Australians could come together to be creative, to tell our stories, to get support from other survivors, to have an opportunity to say what we want to say to each other, to find families or best mates that we grew up with and to put down information that many of us have been left in the dark about. We do not know the information. It has all been done behind closed doors.

This young person created and opened the website. We started off with her, being one member, and now we are 75 members and growing. We get a lot of satisfaction and a lot of support from each other. Our stories are being told, and we listen and we acknowledge and we support each other, and that is what the site is all about.

Senator HUMPHRIES —So you mainly communicate through the site?

Mrs Findlay —Yes, communicate.

Mr Kelly —This is the empowerment that I mentioned on our behalf before. We could no longer sit back and wait for the government or any service to provide it. We had to do it. It is a matter of our sanity being at stake. That is how we keep together. We are fine amongst each other, but amongst everyone else we feel like freaks.

Mrs Findlay —It is also a site for the many forgotten Australians that live like bats. They live the day in their homes and roam the nights. Many of them do not come out of their homes. They are too scared of strange people. Just to go shopping sometimes is a nightmare. The site has opened up another world for those forgotten Australians and gives them a chance to communicate with others. We have, over time, had quite a few that come on the site that do live like that. Some of them have disabilities. Some cannot read and write. I know I could not read and write until Wings for Survivors opened. I have just learnt so much—just to read, in my own home. It has helped me to read and to feel that I am not alone.

As a survivor, one of the biggest problems is that you feel alone until you reach out and realise that you are not alone, that there are 500,000 of us out there. But many of them would not even know that. They still live in, ‘This happened to me. I’m the only one,’ because as children we never talked to each other. We were that abused that we kept it in ourselves. We never told a single soul, not even our best mates. A lot of us still are living that. The Wings site is a whole new world where you can reach out to people without feeling that you are going to be not believed or you are going to be judged for what you have said. The site does not do that.

Senator HUMPHRIES —You said there is a grave that has children in it whose names are not identified.

Mrs Findlay —Yes.

Senator HUMPHRIES —Is it an old grave, do you know?

Mrs Findlay —It was established in 1865 when the orphanage was built. The orphanage also decided to have its own gravesite. I fell across it 12 months ago. It was so touching to my heart. Twenty-six of my own brothers and sisters were buried there with no names, no dates. But that is not the only one. You go to this cemetery, you stand in the middle, you just walk around in a circle, and they have sticks of trees and every stick of tree is a child. It is just so freaking. You walk around in a circle and there are trees and they are children.

CHAIR —Is that Ballarat Orphanage? The Ballarat Orphanage has its own cemetery. Is that where you found this?

Mrs Findlay —Ballarat has got its cemetery, but the orphanage itself had its own gravesite.

CHAIR —Within the Ballarat cemetery there is a section?

Mrs Findlay —Yes, which is as big as this room.

CHAIR —And within that part of the Ballarat cemetery there is the unnamed grave that you mentioned?

Mrs Findlay —Yes. But there are also others. The cemetery has another plot which is kind of in a diamond, but these children and babies that were in Alexandra Babies Home are buried there with no acknowledgement, nothing saying, ‘Children are remembered,’ or anything like that. I believe that they should be. There should be some sort of plaque, like we do with the stillborn. I had a stillborn child. I buried my daughter. I went back to that cemetery only to find that my daughter was misplaced. It is so disheartening to reclaim your child and your child is not there. I feel so deeply about these children that are buried without names.

CHAIR —Without acknowledgement. Yes.

Senator HUMPHRIES —Thank you for that.

Ms Greaves —We all dream, as forgotten Australians, of changing our label. We would like to be ‘remembered forgotten Australians’. That is what we dream of.

CHAIR —‘No longer forgotten’.

Ms Greaves —No.

CHAIR —When Senator Andrew Murray came up with that term it was to highlight the condition and the lack of recognition. All of us would think it would be nice when it became an historical term and was no longer real. We will try and use that, Ms Greaves, somehow in the process. We try and pick up on those things. Thank you for giving us your time. If there is anything else you think we should know, please contact us. I know that you have worked the web extremely effectively, so you can email us as well. Ms Greaves, I am keen for those petitions to come. That will happen.

Proceedings suspended from 12.46 pm to 1.27 pm